Message received — loud and clear
LARAMIE -- Hunter Maldonado wasn't touching that one with a 10-foot pole.
"I don't know," the sophomore said. "You'll have to ask coach Linder."
Why was Marcus Williams, the fourth-leading scorer amongst freshmen in the nation, not in the starting lineup against high-powered Boise State Wednesday night?
Maldonado deferred. The ultimate decision maker did not. It was to send a message to the 18-year-old -- this gig isn't all about scoring. Defense is a must.
"We watched the film and had a very, you know, come-to-Jesus film session in terms of what the right effort looks like," Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder said. "It wasn't just Marcus, but Marcus has aspirations and has the ability and talent to be a very special player and to have the ability to play at a very high level."
Xavier DuSell, another freshman, received his first-career start as the Texas product was forced to watch the visiting Broncos build a quick 7-3 lead. Williams was inserted into the lineup at the 17:17 mark. He didn't score his first bucket until there was just 3:16 remaining in the first half.
Boise State was already leading 45-28.
When the dust settled on Wyoming's third straight loss -- all by 20-plus points -- Williams topped the stat sheet with 30:29 of playing time.
Linder's hands are tied when it comes to in-game "punishments." Wednesday, just seven healthy players suited up for the Cowboys because of injuries to Hunter Thompson and Eoin Nelson.
Still, the message had to be delivered.
"I'm doing him a disservice," Linder said. "And unfortunately, for him, we can't use the bench to teach him that unlike where most freshmen at good programs, you don't play much as a freshman because you don't have the right habits. It's the habits on the defensive end that keeps freshmen from playing.
"... I would be doing a disservice to him and his future if I said, 'hey, this is OK.' It's not OK. His effort wasn't OK."
Williams finished the night with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He snagged three rebounds and the same number of assists. The defensive effort was apparent from the minute Williams checked into the game. He was working through screens and attempting to glue himself to guys like Marcus Shaver, Max Rice and RayJ Dennis, among others.
Those three combined to score 31 points.
The energy was there. The results weren't.
Boise State shot an eye-popping 81 percent midway through the first half on 13-of-15 shooting. They finished with 90 points.
After Monday night's 83-60 loss to the Broncos, Williams said the Cowboys "grabbed the wall." That's team lingo for being tired. He said the 47-23 rebounding disparity was the result of "heart and fight" or lack thereof.
"We stand around and watch, as a as a unit," Williams said postgame. "... We have a lot of heart and a lot of fighters within our guys, we just have to keep our foot on the gas the whole 40 minutes."
Linder felt like his young squad -- and Williams -- did that despite what the scoreboard read.
"Credit to Marcus, he responded the right way," Linder said. "For being an 18-year-old -- it's not like he's a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old freshman -- I mean, he's a puppy and he turned 18 in August. Those are some of the things that you have to go through. We're not going to sacrifice, you know, effort. We're not going to sacrifice discipline.
"I know he's going to get a lot better because of it, and our team's going to get a lot better."
Wyoming (7-4, 1-3) will travel to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force (3-7, 1-4) tomorrow at 2 p.m. MST.